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SERIES XXIII Nos. 11-12 




(Edited by H. B. Adams, 1882-1901) 








November- December, 1905 

Copyright, 1906, by 




By the end of the Middle Ages many European cities 
had become almost sovereign states. This was not their 
original condition but was the result of a process extending 
over long periods of time. Each municipality had its par- 
ticular history and reached its goal by its own route, con- 
sequently none but the most general rules can be laid down 
for the growth of civic life in this period. No two places 
passed through exactly the same development. The con- 
ditions of their life history were as various as the feudal 
customs from which they sprang. The towns adapted their 
courses to their environment and from their original posi- 
tions of feudal subserviency won for themselves various 
degrees of independence and self-government. 

But, whether obtained by gift, or purchase, or by war- 
fare, it is not the task of this paper to describe the earlier 
processes of municipal development, but rather to review 
the situation at the time when the goal of liberty had been 
reached. It is a matter of considerable interest to observe 
the conditions under which political and economic life were 
possible during a period when the destiny of the city was 
in the hands of its own governors. The task of govern- 
ment was not as complex as it is in a modern municipality, 
but the burden was by no means light, and the object of this 
study is to enumerate some of the problems which con- 
fronted the city authorities in certain typical towns. 

In the first rank of importance stand the problems of 
political sovereignty. The city which owed no allegiance to 
a territorial overlord and had only a feeble attachment to 
the Empire, must lookout for itself in the contest of powers. 


6 Municipal Problems in Mediceval Switzerland. [662 

It must either prepare to defend itself or make alliances 
for mutual protection. Both of these measures were usu- 
ally taken. The Rhine cities had their leagues for offense 
and defense which at times had the importance of great 
states. In Switzerland the chief cities were by this time 
either component parts of the Confederation or in alliance 
with it. Municipalities, therefore, entered into the borders 
of the higher state-craft and of diplomacy. The political 
horizon was larger than the circuit of the walls or the limits 
of the immediate district, and the problem of political ex- 
istence itself was imposed upon the authorities. It does not 
follow from this that the governments necessarily rose to an 
unselfish standard of cosmopolitan statesmanship. We see 
at once that the authorities were at one moment engaged in 
the highest forms of state activity, and at the next in the 
most minute, if we may not call them the most trivial, 
details of community life. The first glance at the subject, 
therefore, shows that our modern conceptions of city admin- 
istration under constitutional limitations must be laid aside 
for the time and that this earlier municipal activity must be 
studied in the light of its own day, and in the perspective 
of its own landscape. 

The principal cities of German Switzerland serve as in- 
teresting subjects of study in this connection, because the 
superior authority, both of territorial lords and of the 
German Empire, were early neutralized and eventually re- 
moved. The cities continued to be in contact with these 
powers, but they met them as equals, not as subordinates. 
Even the remote and theoretical subserviency to the Holy 
Roman Empire was neglected and finally cast off, and the 
neighboring countries were either allies or enemies. 

Nor was there in the Swiss Confederation itself any 
power which exerted a controlling authority over the cities 
included in it. The union called for a certain amount of 
common action and this was given in time of danger, but the 
Confederation was too feeble to enforce an ordinance for 
common government. The Swiss attained their political 

663] Municipal Problems in Medieval Switzerland. 7 

independence by united effort but in spite of their consti- 
tution. There was no central power to enforce obedience, 
much less any federal law-making body to determine the 
form of municipal organization or to exert a control of its 
action. 1 

Zurich, Bern, and Basel, notably, became city states. The 
towns of those names were not only the chief places in their 
territories but each governed the territory itself, and the 
smaller communities within. The rural inhabitants were 
in an inferior position and the government residing within 
the walls spoke for the rest. Hence inwardly as well as out- 
wardly the municipality was an independent organism and 
held a controlling position for which there is no modern 

In diplomatic relations the Confederation held no mon- 
opoly. Each canton had the right to negotiate with foreign 
governments, and even to enter into separate treaties and 
capitulations. This was specially marked during the period 
when mercenary soldiers were most in demand. A few selec- 
tions from the documents will show the importance and 
variety of the international correspondence of these small 
municipal states. 

The cities of Basel and Freiburg, in 1365, entered into 
a defensive alliance agreeing to protect each other in case 
of war on either party. 2 In November of the same year 
these two take the city of Breisach into the agreement, and 
in December, the three together accept Neuenburg as a 
member of the company .** 

In 1405, the cities of Strassburg and Basel mutually agree 
to protect their respective liberties, rights, and customs. In 
a document of the same date they promise not to enter into 

1 A brief statement of the federal situation is given in Chapter I 
of the author's study of " Switzerland at the Beginning of the 
Sixteenth Century," J. H. U. Studies XXII. A more comprehensive 
view in the introduction to his " Government in Switzerland," New 
York, 1900. 

2 Basel, Urkundenbuch IV, No. 295. 

2a Basel, Urkundenbuch, IV, Nos. 296, 297. 

8 Municipal Problems in Mediaval Switzerland. [664 

any alliance with Austria during the continuation of their 
agreement. 8 This treaty was frequently renewed. 

Not only alliances defensive and offensive were contin- 
ually made and unmade, but the advantages of neutrality 
were also well understood. For instance take the following 
agreement on the part of one of the neighbors of Basel : 

" I, Thiiring von Ramstein, Freiherr zu Zwingen and 
Gilgenberg, make known to all men by this letter, that since 
the wise and discreet, the Burgomaster, council and people of 
Basel and their predecessors have always been true and good 
neighbors to me and all my predecessors, and if God so will 
shall ever remain so, therefore on account of mutual good 
friendship, I have entered into an agreement with the people 

of Basel and have promised that whether the people 

of Basel during this time win in war or are conquered, in 
whatever way it falls out, I shall neither receive their ene- 
mies, nor aid, nor assist them neither secretly or openly in 
any wise whatsoever, but shall be quiet during the war, and 
toward both parties remain steadfast by my word and honor 
without deceit." 4 

Negotiations of larger scope are visible in the instructions 
of the council of Zurich to its delegates to the federal Diet, 

29 June, 1413 "we are unanimously agreed that 

when our delegates and those of the Confederation come 
together next Tuesday at Lucerne to make answer to the 
Roman King, the delegates whom we shall send on that day 
shall have full power to act and answer on behalf of our 
city in whatever the confederates act and answer." 

" But in case they are not unanimous in this answer, that 
whatever the delegates of Bern and Solothurn answer and 
enact, they shall on our behalf answer and act with them." ! 

Negotiations of like character were opened again in 1415, 
beginning with the diet and then going directly to the king. 

3 Basel, Urkundenbuch V, Nos. 331, 332. 

4 Basel, Urkundenbuch V, No. 333, March 17, 1405. No. 347, July 
20, 1406, is a neutrality treaty with the Margrave Rudolf von 

'Zuricher Stadtbiicher, II, 12. 

665] Municipal Problems in Medieval Switzerland. 9 

The instructions for the embassy to King Sigismund in re- 
gard to his demand for help against Duke Frederick of 
Austria were passed by the council of Zurich, on April 3, 
1415. The conditions under which they would lend aid in- 
cluded guaranty of their rights and privileges and that peace 
should not be made without their knowledge. 

By the nth of April, 1415, the embassy had returned and 
the council passed the following resolution. . . . " whereas 
we had sent the upright and wise Heinrich Meisen, Alt- 
burgomaster, Felix Maness, and Conrad Tascher, members 
of our council to our lord the king as an embassy to demand 
of the king the aforesaid act and articles, in order that if 
the act prevailed then we should promise him our assistance. 
As these our ambassadors have performed wisely and well 
all that we had commanded and moved according to our 
desires and have brought back the king's letter with his 
majesty's seal unbroken, [resolved] that we have promised 
our lord the king fair assistance and that we will give him 
fair assistance in this war against the Duke of Austria." ' 

In a treaty between Count Hans von Tierstein, Austrian 
governor of Ensisheim, and the cities of Basel, Freiburg 
in Breisgau, Colmar, and Breisach, July 16, 1450, the parties 
agree to the values to be accepted for the coins current in 
their territories. 7 

The cities of Basel, Bern, and Solothurn in 1441, entered 
into a treaty for mutual defense and provide for the peaceful 
settlement of disputes between their governments or be- 
tween their citizens. The parties are not territorial princes, 
but ''We, Arnold von Ratberg, knight, burgomaster, the 
council and citizens in common of the city of Basel, and 
we, the schultheiss, council and citizens in common of the 
cities of Bern in Uechtland and Solothurn/" 

In 1449, the city of Basel entered into an arbitration 
treaty with the Duke of Austria. Just as any two nations 

6 Zuricher Stadtbiicher, II, 22, 23. 

7 Basel, Urkundenbuch, VII, No. 276. 

8 Basel, Urkundenbuch, VII, No. 2. 

io Municipal Problems in Mediaval Switzerland. [666 

of to-day might agree to submit their difficulties to a court 
of arbiters, so this territorial prince, and the mayor and 
council of a city become parties to what is practically an 
international agreement. 9 

In 1461, a treaty was concluded between various princes 
and cities, for resisting the encroachments of the Westphal- 
ian law courts. The powers included were Frederic, Pfalz- 
graf of the Rhine, duke of Bavaria, imperial arch-cupbearer 
and elector, Rnprecht, bishop of Strassburg, and landgrave 
of Alsace, Albrecht, archduke of Austria, etc., Charles, 
margrave of Baden, Conrad, lord of Busnang and Montal, 
Bartholomew, abbot of Murbach, Johann von Luppfen, land- 
grave of Stullinger, etc., Jacob, count of Lichtenberg, and 
Louis his brother, William, lord of Rappoldstein and Hohen- 
ack, and finally, the Burgomaster and councils of Strassburg 
and Basel, Hagenau, Colmar, Schlettstadt, Wissenburg, 
Mulhausen, Kaiserberg, Ober-Ehenheim, Minister in St. 
Gregorienthal, Rossheim, Duringheim, Offenburg, Gengen- 
bach, Zelle, Freiburg, Breisach, Neuenburg, and Endingen. 10 

In 1475, a treaty was entered into between Louis XI, of 
France, and the Confederates in which military assistance 
could be demanded of the Swiss. The stipulations were not 
as clear as they should have been, so the city of Bern passed 
an explanatory resolution, in which it took upon itself the 
responsibility for the proper fulfillment of the treaty. 

" And if at any time the aforesaid Confederates upon the 
demand of the King, do not send the aforesaid number of 
6000 men to his aid, we agree and promise to make this 
number complete and make ourselves responsible to the 
King therefor." 10a 

From these few instances alone it is apparent that the 
cities in question enjoyed the privileges of nations in certain 
phases of their government. But their sovereign rights and 

"Basel, Urkundenbuch, VII, No. 194. 
10 Basel, Urkundenbuch, VIII, No. 177. 

10a Eidgenossische Abschiede II, 921. Oechsli, Quellenbuch I, 

667] Municipal Problems in Medieval Switzerland. n 

duties had also their sovereign perils. If they might enter 
wars in behalf of the powers about them, they must also 
expect attack. This expectation was amply fulfilled during 
the period in review, and notwithstanding alliances with 
kings and adjacent commonwealths, the cities were obliged 
in the last resort to depend upon their own defenses. In 
fact, from the foundation of the towns to the beginning of 
their modern history, the first requisite of independent ex- 
istence was adequate defense of the immediate circuit of 
habitation. At present, under large general governments, 
only a few towns at important strategic points are fortified. 
During the period under consideration every small center of 
government must prepare for the worst. 

The nature of that defense was a most important factor 
in mediaeval municipal life. As everybody knows, the war- 
fare of that day called for walls. Where natural cliffs were 
lacking, masonry was called in to provide barriers against 
hostile men and hostile artillery at close range. Hand to 
hand conflicts were anticipated in which the possession of a 
stone wall and a ditch was in question. As time went on 
the machinery of destruction grew more powerful and the 
masonry grew heavier. The municipal problem increased 
at the same pace. 

A city wall, in the first place, called for an original outlay 
of a serious character, whatever the size of the town might 
be. In a small place the burden would fall on fewer and 
in large towns the circumference of the barricade would 
be greater. In earlier days the fortification of towns was 
sometimes assisted by the territorial lords. A market tax 
or the proceeds of other contributions would be devoted to 
the walls. Upon a foundation thus laid a town might main- 
tain its fortifications a century or more by simply keeping 
them in repair, but in the later mediaeval period it became 
necessary to enlarge and the enclosure of a greater space 
laid the burden of a new wall upon the citizens themselves. 
In all cases there was a continual outlay for maintenance, 
for the preservation of moats, and the prevention of decay. 

12 Municipal Problems in Medieval Switzerland. [668 

Walls, therefore, became one of the fixed charges of a city 
financial budget, an element which no longer figures in the 
problems of municipalities. Specific instances may be cited 
to give a glimpse of the ways and means of maintenance. 

The code of Zurich of 1304 devotes the fines for certain 
offenses to the use of the fortifications. 11 The Emperor Sig- 
mund granted to the city of Basel in 1431 the right to lay 
taxes and excises on its citizens for the support of the 
" walls, moats, bridges, and other building operations." 12 
This corresponds to the grants for " murage and pavage " 
made by English kings about this time, but before the close 
of the fifteenth century the Swiss towns were independent of 
such authorization to employ their own taxes. 
The council must take oath never to give away the property 
of the city or to permit the walls to be injured. They 
must not permit strong houses to be built outside the walls 
lest they be used to command the gates." 

In the records of the city council of Zurich under date 
of 1423, is a settlement of a disputed title to a piece of 
property, and with it an order that the city wall which 
abutted on this property should be kept in repair by the 
owner without expense to the city." This obligation was 
also laid upon the nuns of the cloister of Oetenbach when 
they moved to a situation inside the gates. Under what 
principle such a tax could be imposed is not explained, nor 
can it be readily determined how much or little of the wall 
was thus maintained. 

The preservation of the moats and ditches demanded 
continual watchfulness in order to prevent them from being 
used as dumping places for all sorts of refuse. Penalties 
were imposed for disregard of this important matter. 

There were also people who wished to have private doors 
in the wall for more convenient access to their properties 

11 Richtebrief der Burger von Zurich, I, 35, IV, 10. 

12 Urkundenbuch, Basel, Bd. VI, 285. 

13 Richtebrief, II, 23, 24; III, 43, 44; Rechtsquellen, Bern, I, 75. 

14 Ziiricher Stadtbiicher, II, 337. 

669] Municipal Problems in Medieval Switzerland. 13 

outside. In Zurich this privilege was granted to one or two 
persons on condition that they close up the door with mas- 
onry when notified by the city authorities." 

One can safely imagine the variety of business imposed on 
a city council in keeping up this portion of the public works, 
however solidly the walls may have been built originally. 
Yet, on the other hand, some of the most significant social 
results are due to the fact that the fortifications were built 
so permanently. It was so great a task to rebuild that the 
walls would remain for one, two, or three generations on the 
original outline. Cities were kept in the same framework 
for fifty to one hundred and fifty years. The historical 
maps of all these towns show successive enlargements, but 
these are spread over long spaces of time. 

Basel, for example, occupied in the thirteenth century a 
space which now seems but a small semi-circle in the center 
of the present city with a smaller piece on the other side 
of the Rhine. The greater part of the line of fortification 
in that period dated from the eleventh century, and it was 
1626 before a new circuit was enclosed. This latter line 
of wall remained until 1860, when it gave place to boulevards. 
Bern was founded on a narrow peninsula in the Aare river 
and was destined, like New York, to grow in one direction. 
In 1191 the settlement received both a charter and a wall 
of defense. The size of the first enclosure does not seem 
large when examined now, but it was probably a liberal 
space for the inhabitants at the time. A new wall was 
built farther out about 1250. This sufficed for almost a 
century, for the last wall was erected in 1345. Outlying 
fortifications were added in the seventeenth century, but 
these did not serve as city limitations in the way that the 
earlier walls had done. The lines of successive expansion 
can be easily traced in the present streets of Bern. 

Strassburg starts with a diminutive Roman city which 
expands first in 720. The next enlargement occurred be- 

18 Zuricher Stadtbucher, I, 8, 1315. 

14 Municipal Problems in Mediaval Switzerland. [670 

tween 1202 and 1220. A third expansion culminated about 
the middle of the fourteenth century and a fourth was com- 
pleted in 1390. It took a half century to enclose the next 
addition. The citadel which was added in 1684 had a mili- 
tary rather than a social significance, hence the framework 
of civic life in Strassburg remained fixed for long continuous 
periods throughout the middle age and early modern times. 

The city walls and other means of defense deserve greater 
attention than they have received as a factor in the social 
conditions and problems of the time. There was not only 
a financial question to solve, but there was also a sanitary 
problem to encounter. The latter may not have been appre- 
ciated by the contemporary authorities, and it may be neces- 
sary to call it rather a sanitary effect. The very choice of a 
town site was in most cases determined by its defensibility. 
If it was situated on high ground the chances for natural 
drainage were favorable, but if in a low spot with a sluggish 
moat about it, there was a distinct hindrance to health for 
long periods of time. 

We are amused at the narrow streets which may yet be 
found in some of these old towns. But it is not surprising 
when you consider the small area in which the community 
was confined. Undoubtedly the middle ages were not suffi- 
ciently aware of the value of air space either inside or out- 
side of their houses, but the presence of the walls gave a 
constant inducement to economy of ground. The con- 
temporary views and plans of towns show very little room 
for expansion. The pressure of population gradually pushed 
the houses outside the gates but there was always some wall 
to consider. At first the extra-mural inhabitants must be 
able to get inside easily in time of attack. Later the bound- 
aries of a new wall fixed once more the limits of expansion. 
Consequently from the beginning to the end of the period 
there was every inducement to confine both streets and 
buildings to narrow space. The builder could expect a 
change of boundary scarcely within a lifetime. 

The problems of police regulation, sanitation, and crime 

671] Municipal Problems in Medieval Switzerland. 15 

were, therefore, largely dependent on the primary factor of 
defense, a matter growing out of the spirit of the times and 
for which the particular locality was not responsible. While 
sitting in judgment on the activities of city authorities of 
that period it would be well to consider the limitations, set 
for them, both in space and scope of action. There will 
be plenty left to condemn according to modern standards. 

Turning to the larger questions confronting council and 
magistrates within the boundaries of their town or territory, 
one finds at an early date that the whole welfare and activity 
of the citizen is in their control. The laws of property, 
inheritance, and everything relating to commerce and ex- 
change ; criminal law including the power of life and death ; 
all the phases of private as well as public law are not only ad- 
ministered, but the principles are established by the city au- 
thorities. Undoubtedly the precepts of criminal procedure 
grew up by degrees out of common custom and feudal .prac- 
tice of Germanic peoples, but the codes followed in the later 
middle age were not imposed by some superior state above 
the city but in the case of the larger cities were formulated 
by each city for itself. Likewise the laws of property and 
inheritance in these various towns have a resemblance to one 
another which shows their common derivation, but even in 
these there are marks of individuality which would suggest, 
if we did not otherwise know, that each town was autono- 
mous in this respect. 

It is not the purpose of this paper to describe the char- 
acter of the criminal and commercial law, but it is of great 
significance to know that the same magistrates that admin- 
istered the minute regulations of streets, markets, and petty 
misdemeanors, had also the power of banishment, mutilation 
or death. These latter functions were not in the hands of 
any superior general authority which would thus permit 
the town government to devote its whole attention to local 
affairs, but the whole thing, from the treaty with France to 
the price of wine, from homicide to fire-buckets, is under- 
taken by the local officials. 

16 Municipal Problems in Medi&val Switzerland. [672 

One might suppose that such a condition of things would 
bring forth a succession of important men in places like 
Basel, Strassburg, Zurich, or any of the South German 
cities which enjoyed this sovereign liberty of action. As 
a matter of fact the list of great statesman is not large, 
Occasionally a man of large caliber comes to the front in 
European politics, but for the most part the phenomena gave 
birth to general vigorous citizenship. The towns had 
reached their freedom in the first place through their own 
efforts or shrewdness, hence they were in the mood to main- 
tain and improve their advantages with energy. In Switzer- 
land they were able to throw off all semblance of imperial 
overlordship and to perpetuate their independence through 
periods of greater danger. The Rhine cities did not main- 
tain themselves so long but for a noteworthy period set an 
example of manly self-sufficiency and preserved the seeds 
of modern democracy. 

After the fundamental facts of life and property, the 
municipal authorities were occupied with the daily concerns 
of commerce and social comfort. There was no lack of 
vigor in the administration of these, but the energy was 
expended in a somewhat different way from that now ex- 
pected of city fathers. For example, each city determined 
for itself and its dependent territory all matters concerning 
weights, measures, and coinage. A supervisor of weights 
and measures is a familiar official, but we do not ordinarily 
include a master of the mint among municipal dignitaries. 
The councils were obliged to consider questions of the fine- 
ness of metal and to establish the forms and subdivisions of 
coinage. From time to time they fixed the rate of exchange 
with the neighboring or more distant foreign monies. The 
basis of currency was inherited from Rome and the earlier 
middle age, but changes and deterioration were constantly 
at work. The right to coin money was one of the sovereign 
powers which every place was jealous to maintain. Con- 
sequently the interchange of goods must have been seriously 
hampered by the multiplication of coins of different value. 

673] Municipal Problems in Medieval Switzerland. 17 

This trouble continued almost down to this century in South 
Germany and Switzerland and if the coinage of that period 
is the distraction, if not the despair, of the collector, it could 
have been only a little less to the contemporary. The rec- 
ords show that numerous attempts were made to establish 
a common standard among neighboring towns, or to agree 
upon a fixed rate of exchange. Matters which now are reg- 
ulated by parliaments, or the combined wisdom of great 
nations, were at that period in charge of town councils. 
Fortunately the habits of trade made certain gold coins, like 
the Florentine ducat, and the coins of the same weight called 
the " Rheinische Gulden " an international legal tender and 
thus the difficulties were somewhat lessened by being con- 
fined to the silver coinage. 

As an example, the monetary ordinance of 1351 in Zurich 
provided for a change of currency. It was forbidden to buy 
or sell with the old pennies, yet debts were to be paid in the 
coin in which they were contracted. No one should offer 
bullion silver for sale without the knowledge of the master 
of the mint, who has the first right to purchase. The gold- 
smiths might buy broken silver for use without special 
permission, but should turn over to the mint what they do 
not need for manufacturing. No one shall conduct an 
exchange business without the consent of the council and the 
mint-master, except in certain named coins not needed by 
the mint. No banker or Jew should lend any money except 
in the new coinage struck in Zurich or in gold guldens. 
New coins must not be melted down. Nor must any one 
within three leagues of Zurich buy silver without the con- 
sent of the mint-master, and if the latter wants the silver 
must sell it to him at the original purchase price. Likewise 
no citizen should without permission export silver from 
Zurich. Buying and selling must take place with the new 
coins, unless one desired to use gold guldens, but this 
must be at the rate of exchange given by the mint. 

The coinage agreements were not necessarily in favor 
of stable currency. In 1421, an understanding was recorded 

i8 Municipal Problems in Mediaval Switzerland. [674 

that Zurich and Lucerne agree to strike coins of the same 
value, neither more or less, than those of Bern and Zof- 
ingen. Whenever they pleased they might test the coins of 
the latter places and if found to be lighter than their own 
they would reduce the latter to the same basis. This curious 
policy was followed almost to the end of the eighteenth 
century with the consequence that the Zurich pound fell 
from a silver value of 20 francs in the thirteenth century to 
1. 1 6 francs in 1780." 

The records contain many ordinances and agreements 
about money, but the foregoing citations will indicate the 
importance as well as the minuteness of the power thus left 
in the hands of many towns. 

As to forms of government the Swiss cities may be 
divided into two general classes. In one the trade guilds 
had an active part in the administration, in the other they 
had not. This does not mean to say that in one case the 
guilds were regarded as the most important element, but 
that their right to a share in the government had been 
recognized, while in the other class of cities the aristocracy 
took the affairs of State wholly in their own hands. The 
two prominent examples of the respective classes are Zurich 
and Bern. In Zurich a revolution which took place under 
Rudolf Brun in 1336 was clearly an echo of a movement 
in Strassburg about the same time. There was in both cases 
a demand for more popular representation, and the result 
was the admission of the masters of the guilds, ex officio, 
as members of the city council. This principle remained 
in the government of Zurich for several centuries thereafter, 
and one may regard it as an unalterable fixture during the 
period here under consideration. 

But notwithstanding the recognition of the working 
classes there continued to be a preeminent position reserved 
for the old families. Titles of nobility were carried by 
some of the associated burgers, and others on account of 

"Ziiricher Stadtbiicher, II, 153 and note. 

675] Municipal Problems in Medieval Switzerland. 19 

their wealth, influence, or distinguished services received 
orders of knighthood from foreign potentates. The possi- 
bility of aristocratic government was by no means abolished 
by the constitution of 1336, for Rudolf Brun himself de- 
manded and obtained the position of sole burgomaster for 
life, and at various other times dictatorships were assumed 
for longer or shorter periods. These were, however, ab- 
normal situations. Class distinctions were keenly felt, as 
may be seen in the sumptuary laws of this and the following 
centuries, but it was a most important fact that the advance- 
ment of the industrial classes was made possible. Although 
contemporaries might not have formulated the matter in the 
same way, the inhabitants were in fact divided into two 
classes, the citizens of wealth and the citizens of toil. The 
first class included the aristocratic families, the larger mer- 
chants, and in general those who were financially at ease. 
The amount of wealth required to give a man distinction was 
much less extensive than at present. The tax lists show 
that the richest men had small fortunes compared to those 
now held in the same city. This portion of the population 
was naturally smaller in number and was gathered into one 
guild, called the Constafel. This term was derived from 
constabularius, the designation of a high feudal office, but 
it no longer implied any duties of that character. The word 
had come to mean simply a title of distinction, just as in 
the earlier middle ages the title senator was given to any 
man capable of holding office. The guild of the Constafel 
was therefore the assembling place of the aristocracy. 

The industrial classes were grouped into thirteen trade 
guilds, whose organization differs in no essential from the 
forms found in other countries at this period. In their 
influence upon the administration of the city government 
aristocracy and labor were about equally represented. It 
would be inexact to say " capital and labor " in this descrip- 
tion, for every master of a trade was a capitalist and em- 
ployer in a small way. There was as yet no wage earning 
class entirely dependent on capitalists for opportunity to 

2O Municipal Problems in Mediaval Switzerland. [6/6 

labor. The distinction in classes was made partly in obedi- 
ence to the natural reverence for well born families, for the 
capacity for leadership, as well as for wealth itself and its 
stake in the commonwealth. 

In outline the city government consisted of a smaller 
and a larger council, with a burgomaster at the head. The 
Kleiner Rath, or smaller council consisted of twenty-six 
members, of whom thirteen were from the Constafel, and the 
other thirteen were the masters of the trade guilds. This 
council met every day if necessary, and was the real exec- 
utive force of the city. 

The great council, known as the Grosser Rath, was com- 
posed as follows: 

Members of the smaller council 26 

Members of the outgoing smaller council 26 

From the trade guilds, 6 from each 78 

From the Constafel 78 

Appointed at large by the burgomaster 3 

The burgomaster himself, as presiding officer i 

Total membership 212 

After 1370 this larger body was commonly spoken of as 
the council of the 200, or, for short, " Die zweihundert." 
Its meetings occurred at irregular intervals for the more 
fundamental business of the city state. 

Elections to the councils took place every six months, at 
Christmas and midsummer. The burgomaster also was 
chosen every half year, but it came to be the practice to 
consider the outgoing mayor as part of the government, and 
thus two chairmen were constantly available. At the dates 
mentioned the guilds of Zurich met in their respective as- 
semblies and chose their masters and their representatives 
for the two councils. These newly elected bodies thereupon 
met together and chose a burgomaster. 

The same general form of government was found also in 
Basel and Schaffhausen. The number of members in the 
councils was larger in Basel and smaller in Schaffhausen 
than in Zurich, but the principle was the same. In Basel 
the representation of the guilds was introduced about 1350. 

677] Municipal Problems in Medieval Switzerland. 21 

These constitutions present an interesting subject of 
study, for it is still a question how much popular govern- 
ment was possible under their provisions. Analysis of the 
membership of the guilds in Zurich, for example, brings out 
the fact that about every man who was not in wardship or 
dependent service was connected with some guild. In 
Basel, and perhaps other places, even the widows of de- 
ceased members could carry on the business and retain mem- 
bership, but keeping in mind only that part of the inhabit- 
ants who would be called upon for all kinds of civic duties, 
one finds them all attached to one or another of these organ- 

The connection of the citizen with politics began with 
the election of his guild master, for the latter was an ex 
ofKcio member of the lesser council. His next opportunity 
came with the election by the guild of its six representatives 
in the great council. The common man, therefore, made 
himself felt through his business organization rather than 
through a ward or precinct of the city. Such political sub- 
divisions did not exist. In fact the guild system for the 
exercise of political rights continued down into the nine- 
teenth century, when men of any profession had to be en- 
rolled among butchers or bakers, or some other trade in 
order to vote. In the fourteenth and fifteenth century this 
was a more natural procedure, yet the amount of influence 
upon public affairs depended upon the quality of his guild. 
On account of wealth and condition the guild of the Con- 
stafel was allotted as many members of the lesser council 
as all the other guilds put together. No doubt this group 
had more at stake in the commonwealth than any other 
class. The trades guilds varied in size, but representation 
in the government was the same for all, one each in the 
daily council and seven each in the Two Hundred. 

In this great council also the number from the Constafel 
was equal to all the rest of the elected members put to- 
gether. The burgomaster and the three delegates at large 
would be the only uncertain quantity, in any division of 

22 Municipal Problems in Mediaeval Switzerland. [6/8 

party interest. Referring to the previous table it will be 
noted that the Constafel are represented in the great council 
by one-half of the incoming and outgoing lesser council 
and by seventy-eight others elected for the purpose. The 
thirteen trade guilds have six each, and one-half of the 
lesser council, making one hundred and four for each 
class. Representation therefore was not on a basis of gen- 
eral suffrage, but was held in check by the double privilege 
of property. 

A further analysis of the government permits one to make 
a fair estimate of the democracy present. The population 
of Zurich in 1357 has been estimated from the tax books to 
have been 12,375. In 1374 it was about 11,680, and in 
1410, 10,570. During four centuries the number of dwell- 
ing houses remains almost stationary between 1000 and 1 100. 
The population at the close of the fifteenth century had 
declined to something like 7000, but if we take an average 
number of 10,000 residents as a maximum with which to 
calculate the ratio of representation, the result is interest- 
ing." According to the usual proportions the adult men 
would make about one-fifth of the community, or about 
2000 persons. At that figure a legislature like the Two 
Hundred would provide I delegate to every 10 voters, or 
I to 50 inhabitants. Even if the estimate of male inhabit- 
ants should be made twice as large as modern figures war- 
rant, we should have a ratio of one delegate to 20 voters, a 
representation which comes very near to pure democracy. 

If we eliminate from this the special representation of 
wealth, the actual proportion of councillors voted for by 
the great body of the citizens would be smaller. There is 
no way to show exactly what this ratio was, because 
the number of members of the Constafel guild is not closely 
ascertainable. We simply know that it was a small part of 
the civic body, and that the plan was in effect a combined 
representation of interests and population. Practically every- 

17 Das Alte Zurich, II, 399. 

679] Municipal Problems in Medieval Switzerland. 23 

body who was a working force in the city had a voice, 
although not an equal voice, in public business. The super- 
ior representation of wealth marks the boundary of the 
contest of social forces for the time being. 

In 1416 an ordinance was passed to the effect that all 
nominations in the guilds for members of the great council 
should first be submitted to the college of guild masters. 
This was practically a control of the " bosses " which would 
prevent the choice of men who might favor the aristocracy, 
or stand in the way of the industrial interests of the city. 
This inspection could also control the external policy of that 
portion of the council. We must note, however, that this 
control is not usurped by the political managers, but openly 
recognized and provided for by ordinances. 18 

Aristocratic government in Swiss cities was represented 
in the constitutions of Bern, Lucerne, Freiburg, and Solo- 
thurn. Taking Bern as the largest and most influential, we 
find at the outset that one of the cardinal principles of that 
city was that guilds were not permitted to have any voice 
whatever in the government. What is more curious is the 
fact that the rulers took measures even to the extent of 
forming military alliances to prevent the guilds from ever 
getting any hold upon administration. Most curious of all 
is the agreement which Zurich was willing to enter into. 
That republican town promised to lend armed assistance to 
the government of Bern if any one should attempt to over- 
throw the existing constitution and introduce the regime 
of guilds. In return for this the Bernese were to come to 
the help of Zurich if the political power of the guilds was 
threatened. In Bern these organizations were confined to 
their industrial functions. 

In the aristocratic cities above mentioned there were in 
the fourteenth century two councils, as in Zurich, but the 
difference lay in the method of appointment. Bern had 
a small council of 26 and a great council of 200. Lucerne 

"Ziiricher Stadtbiicher, I, 403. 

24 Municipal Problems in Mediaval Switzerland. [680 

had a small council of 36 and a great council of 100, while 
in Freiburg the proportion was 24 to 200. Formerly there 
had been only a single small council of an aristocratic char- 
acter with a Schultheiss at the head. The constitution of 
Bern now under consideration was itself a concession to 
a brief labor movement which began about 1295 and got no 
further. To appease the demands of the guilds a new board 
was created, called the Sixteen, or the Secret Council, and 
consisting of four men from each quarter of the city. This 
board, with the assistance of four of the chief officers of the 
government, selected a council of two hundred, to which 
all classes were eligible. If the members were properly 
chosen this council could be a fairly popular body, but it is 
easy to see how in the course of time the great council be- 
came simply an instrument for confirming aristocratic 
power. With lawmakers of its own appointing, the upper 
classes made the right of citizenship more and more difficult 
to obtain, so that in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries 
the government of Bern was almost a family affair. 

If the study of political forms had been the object of this 
paper it would have been more appropriate to begin with 
the description of governments. It is desirable for once to 
point out the remarkable autonomy of these city states, re- 
gardless of the form of administration, and to approach the 
problems of municipal management from the standpoint of 
the authorities, no matter by what mandate they came into 

Taking up once more the administrative problems of these 
governments we observe that the subject of water supply 
does not come forward for serious consideration at a very 
early period. The chief cities of Switzerland were situated 
on important rivers or lakes, and we may suppose that in 
their most primitive times these sources were employed. 
This might suffice for a very small population, but in the 
fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, it was clearly not con- 
venient to bring water from the riverside for household use. 
The earliest mentioned sources of drinking water in Zurich 

68 1 ] Municipal Problems in Mediceval Switzerland. 25 

were wells on private property. We have no means of 
knowing how abundant or copious these were at any early 
period, but in the course of time it became necessary to 
maintain some wells at public expense. Early in the four- 
teenth century wells are found on public property and 
after the sixteenth century they are found in the accounts 
of the office of public works. At various dates up to 1680 
nineteen wells are thus mentioned as maintained at public 
expense." Water was drawn from these either by ropes 
alone, or with the assistance of sweeps or windlasses of 
various kinds. 1 * The drawings found in the contemporary 
chronicles depict the well-known devices used in early times 
in America, and which are still to be found in remote 

The earliest example of a running fountain in Zurich is 
mentioned in 1307. Water for this was brought in pipes 
from the hills, and this method appears to have been an 
uncommon affair for that town. Later in the fourteenth 
century an attempt was made to distribute some of the river 
water. Large water wheels were erected on the bridges for 
which the current furnished the motive power and the water 
was dipped up in buckets attached to the rims of each wheel. 
This was caught in a trough and flowed thence into pipes 
which fed seven public fountains and nineteen private hy- 
drants. Drawings of these wheels are to be seen in Edli- 
bach's chronicle about 1500 and are still there in pictures of 
the eighteenth century. 21 In the seventeenth century me- 
chanical skill rose to the point of erecting a pump on one 
bridge to furnish water for the old Lindenhof, an open 
space on a knoll considerably elevated from the level of the 

But the rivers were not the most desirable supply, for 
notwithstanding their mountain source and general clear 

. 10 Das Alte Zurich, 410-414. 

"Zemp, Bilderchroniken, 351. 

21 Zemp, Bilderchroniken, 272. Von Liebenau, Das Gasthof und 
Wirtshauswesen der Schweiz in alterer Zeit, 56. 

26 Municipal Problems in Mediaval Switzerland. [682 

appearance, they were more suitable for commerce and 
drainage. Eventually springs in the neighboring hills were 
brought into service. The earliest notice of water conducted 
from a considerable distance dates from 1425. About this 
period various new fountains were established in the streets 
and others were added from time to time. At the end of 
the eighteenth century there were thirty running fountains 
for public use, but a system of water works in the modern 
sense was first undertaken in 1868. The water problem 
of the later middle ages, therefore, was largely left to the 
self-help of the citizens. Private wells were supplemented 
by public wells and fountains to which the burgers brought 
their buckets and carried away water for use in their houses. 
That it was not commonly carried into the house in pipes 
is clearly evident from the careful precautions taken when 
permission was given to make connections with the mains 
which fed the fountains. 

In 1421, the lesser council passed the following order: 
"... Burgomaster and council permit and allow the pro- 
vost of the cathedral in his court at the official residence, 
and Heinrich Suter in his house ' at the Fulli,' each one of 
them to have a fountain with a faucet, one from the fountain 
in the ' Kilchgasse ' and the other from the fountain in 
the ' Hofstatt.' " But both are subject to revocation. 22 

In 1425, there was another order of the same character: 
" We, Burgomaster and council of the city of Zurich, have 
on this day, the date of this writing, granted and allowed 
our dear fellow Councillor, Rudolf Stiissi, upon his earnest 
request, to conduct a fountain out of our city fountain and 
out of the pipes situated in front of the garden of our worthy 
burgomaster Meisse at the Linden outside the gate, across 
the street into his own garden and to place there a fountain, 
but in such a way that he proceed modestly in the matter 
and not take so much water that it bring noticeable damage to 
the city fountain ; and also that he make the fountain in 

"Ziiricher Stadtbucher, II, 330. 

683] Municipal Problems in Medi&val Switzerland. 27 

his garden with a faucet, and lock it with a key, so that 
not everybody can come thither, and that the city fountain 
suffer less damage. But if it should happen that this foun- 
tain should work noticeable damage to the city fountain, 
whether it be a short time or a long time hence, or if we or 
our successors decline to permit the said Rudolf Stussi or 
his heirs to continue this fountain, for any reason whatever, 
he or his heirs shall be obedient to us and our successors 
in all respects and shall discontinue the fountain and conduct 
the water back into the city pipes from whence he now takes 
it, and shall see that it is well closed and that the city 
fountain suffers no further damage, and they shall do this 
at their own cost without expense to us or to our city." ' 

There is no mention of rental or payment for this privi- 
lege. The beneficiaries are prominent citizens who can 
afford to lay the additional pipes at their own expense. 
Ordinary inhabitants would go or send to the nearest foun- 
tain for their drinking and washing fluid. The cost of the 
public water works during these centuries would not seem 
to be a great burden on the community. The efficiency is 
harder matter to determine. In a compact community with 
mediaeval conceptions of convenience the supply doubtless 
seemed ample for household purposes. The necessity of 
bringing water so far by hand undoubtedly made people 
use less of it than if it could have been drawn from a 
spigot in the house. The problem of sanitation is closely 
affected by the water question. In both cases there were 
the natural difficulties and the natural inclinations to be 
counted in estimating the cleanliness and health of the place. 
Personal cleanliness would seem to have been cultivated in 
the summer time at least, if one may judge from the ac- 
counts of swimming and water sports. Public bath houses 
appear also in the municipal documents. 14 

Basel had the misfortune to be shaken down by an earth- 
quake in 1356 and the ruin was completed by fire. It gave 

"Ibid., II, 372. 

14 Urkundenbuch, Basel, Zurich, etc. See indexes of same. 

28 Municipal Problems in Mediceval Switzerland. [684 

the town an opportunity, however, to begin anew, and in 
the next century it presented a very prosperous appearance. 
An interesting description of the city is given by Aeneas 
Silvius Piccolomini, afterward Pope Pius II, who spent some 
time there as secretary to certain cardinals in attendance 
at the Council of Basel. In a letter written in 1436, he 
records his favorable impression of the streets, buildings, 
churches, and general aspects of the place and makes note 
of the fine market places in which fountains gushed forth 
clear sweet water. " In general, there are numerous foun- 
tains in all the streets, even the Tuscan Viterbo is not 
watered with so many pipes. Whoever wishes to count the 
fountains in Basel must count the houses. 23 The houses 
of the citizens are astonishingly well arranged inside and so 
decorated and attractive that they are scarcely equalled by 
the Florentine. They all gleam with cleanliness and are 
mostly frescoed; every house has its garden, fountain, and 
court." It is evident, therefore, with all due allowance for 
the exaggerations of the enthusiastic visitor, that Basel had 
kept pace, if not surpassed its near neighbor, Zurich in the 
conveniences of water. 

Periodic destruction by fire seems to be in the history of 
many of these towns, great or small. But thatched roofs 
and wooden structure give way in the course of time to 
stone and tiles. Protection from fire proceeded more in 
the line of prevention than in extinction. Building laws 
and curfew bells are repeatedly reenacted and improved. It 
was against the law in these times to go into a place where 
there was hay or other inflammable material with an open 
light. It must be enclosed in a lantern. Provision for fire 
extinction was made also. An order of council of 1416 
gives a list of the houses where fire buckets are to be found. 
Thirty-six places are named and each was to have from that 
date on twenty-five buckets for use in case of fire. M 

^Oechsli, Quellenbuch, II, 372. 
"Zuricher Stadtbiicher, II, 414. 

685] Municipal Problems in Mediceval Switzerland. 29 

The stationary character of this protection may be seen 
in the laws of Lucerne just a century previous. The code 
of 131015 ordains that " every citizen shall have a fire- 
bucket in his house and at night shall keep his great barrel 
full of water." At that time also it was forbidden to any 
citizen or servant to thresh or fan out his grain by candle 
light, an ordinance which throws as much light on the 
primitive occupations of the town as it does upon the system 
of fire extinction. 27 

Sanitation, like many other things in a mediaeval town 
was left largely to the self-help of the citizens, yet the 
authorities attempted to enforce a few principles. The 
streets must have received a certain amount of attention, for 
the ordinances are constantly renewed in the fourteenth 
century to the effect that if any one throws manure in desig- 
nated places he must remove it within eight days." The 
laws of Lucerne required every householder to sweep and 
make things neat before his own door once a week. To 
throw dirty water in the street by night or day was subject 
to a fine. " And whatever smith bleeds a horse, he shall 
catch the blood in a tub or bucket so that it does run into 
the street, otherwise he will pay I shilling as often as he 
does it." 5 But the people would keep swine inside the 
town. A statute of Bern in 1313, however, went so far as 
to say that if any one after that date kept a pig-sty in front 
of his door he should be fined a pound. 80 One might infer 
that the swine for a long time had the privilege of the 
streets, for in 1403, on the sixth day of November, the 
burgomaster and councils of Zurich, gave notice that after 
one year from the following Christmas " no one shall have 
any swine in the city except on his premises in stables, and 
shall not let them go out on the street. However, every one 
may take his swine to the water to drink in the day time, 

"Printed in Kopp, Geschichtsblatter aus der Schweiz; Oechsli, 
Urkundenbuch, II, 257, etc. 

28 Ziiricher Stadtbiicher, I, 46, 343, etc. 
" Oechsli, Quellenbuch, II, 260. 
80 Rechtsquellen, Bern, I, 60. 

30 Municipal Problems in Medieval Switzerland. [686 

provided his servant is there. If any desires to clean out 
his stable he may let his swine out, provided his servant is 
at hand, and after the watering and the cleaning up he shall 
drive them in again properly." The fine was five shillings 
for every hog found on the street, " and this fine is to be 
collected from the owner," not the swine. 81 The long 
notice in advance and the care with which trie needs of 
the animals are foreseen in the ordinance, all leave the 
impression that the authorities were reluctant to attack with 
haste or violence an established institution. A century 
later (1505-1512), geese and ducks were deprived of their 
previous freedom of the streets, and hens must be kept 
within bounds. 82 

The streets for a long period must have been difficult to 
keep in a sanitary condition. The use of pavement arrived 
late. Zurich began to lay stone pavement about 1403, and 
evidently proceeded slowly. 88 The condition of things at 
night can be inferred from the police regulations, whereby 
any one who appeared on the street after the curfew bell 
without a light was liable to arrest as a suspicious char- 
acter. 34 

As it is the object of this paper to state in outline a few 
of the problems of municipal life from the standpoint of the 
magistrates, rather than to give a history of city administra- 
tion, it must suffice to pass over with brief mention the 
control of trade and industry. In this the authorities were 
assisted by the guilds with their special rules for each occu- 
pation, but they were often obliged to settle matters by the 
fixing of wages. The principle of governmental interfer- 
ence speaks out of the records with increasing distinctness 
through these centuries. For example, the council of Zur- 
ich in 1335, fixes the maximum wage for carpenters. In 
1424, it is still doing the like for agricultural day laborers, 
and in the seventeenth century in Basel, the municipality 

"Zuricher Stadtbucher, I, 344. 
" Das Alte Zurich, II, 410. 
88 Ibid. 
M Ibid., I, 90. 

687] Municipal Problems in Medicrval Switzerland. 31 

publishes a book of eighty pages giving the price of every 
commodity and every service to be had in town, from a suit 
of clothes to a hair-cut." The market ordinances and the 
labor regulations of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries 
may well be studied simply to see how many things the 
authorities had to think of. 

The same body of magistrates that made treaties and 
capitulations with kings and emperors, found it necessary 
at times to regulate the clothing and expenditures of private 
citizens. They were often busy with the cost of wedding 
feasts, and the price of a christening gift. The care of 
tourists, for which Switzerland now appears to exist, was 
already a subject of legislation. In the year 1400, if not be- 
fore, there seems to have been a practice among boatmen to 
chase after travelers to induce them to use their conveyances, 
much to the discomfort of the pilgrims. Boatmen are com- 
manded, therefore, to stand in their boats and call out if they 
like, but not to hinder the passengers. A year or two later 
an ordinance for inn keepers forbids them to run after guests 
or send their servants to induce them to come to their houses, 
" But one may stand in his door and from there invite a guest 
into his house with modesty." ! 

The same body that made this ordinance might soon be 
ordering the transportation of an army. 

The closing centuries of the mediaeval period was the 
period which witnessed the rapid expansion of towns into 
states. By lending money, by direct purchase, by conquest, 
or by inheritance, municipalities came into the possession of 
feudal rights which hitherto belonged to individuals. The 
town governments simply took the place of the former 
governors, and exercised their rights in exactly the same 
way. By an accumulation of these properties the territory 
of Zurich or Bern was built up to its present dimensions. 

"Zuricher Stadtbiicher, I, 72; II, 362. Der Stadt Basel, Tax-Ord- 
nung, 1646. 
M Ziiricher Stadtbiicher, I, 335, 336. 


32 Municipal Problems in Medieval Switzerland. [688 

The government extended over the whole of this area, but 
the governors were the inhabitants of the walled town. The 
peasants and villagers outside were not citizens but subjects 
of the city. 

The evils of this were great, for the country was regularly 
treated with unfairness. The city desired no competition in 
trade or industry on the part of country artisans. Country 
made goods were forbidden the city or grievously burdened 
with taxation. The trade guilds were afraid of their own 
subjects and got behind the protection of their walls. This 
policy excited bad feeling between the two classes of in- 
habitants and occasional outbreaks of revolt. In fact, it 
took centuries of government to teach the necessity of equal 
rights for all citizens. 

[The argument of this paper was presented in brief outline before 
the American Historical Association, and was printed in the Report 

for 1902, Vol. I, pp. 2II-22I.] 

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